State Of Union

With the start of the season fast approaching we thought it might be as good a time as any to take a look at the health of the game we all love. There will be a slightly Scottish-centric approach but we’ll also cast our eyes further afield.

Scottish Rugby

The £20 million cash injection from BT was widely welcomed by Scottish fans with the SRU committed to spending most of the money developing the game more widely across Scotland. What that actually means is less clear even after the recent Scottish Rugby Board’s AGM.

There is talk of growing the game at grass roots but this is short on detail at the moment. We are promised a revolution but that does not currently extend to a New Zealand type approach to rugby with children playing before and after school and a youth system based on weight/height rather than age. Currently plans are focussed on increasing the number of state schools who include rugby as part of PE lessons. There are also changes being made to the academy structure which could well be a case of quietly shuffling the same bodies around under the banner of “progress”.

With football in a state of flux and the impact of rugby 7s at the Commonwealth Games the SRU have been handed a perfect opportunity to sell the game to the Scottish public, especially young fans. The move to broadcast games with English commentary on BBC2 Scotland is a step in the right direction but requires will on the part of the BBC and SRU to promote and talk up games being broadcast. It also relies on both Pro-Teams being competitive. More on that later.

However the influence of Scottish rugby on the world stage is practically non-existent. An article in this month’s Rugby World lists just two Scots in the top 50 influential figures in rugby. Our initial reaction was of blind fury but once we settled down we realised it was (almost) true.

There’s an argument that Ned Haig should be on that list as inventor of 7s the fastest growing branch of rugby in the world. Until you realise that Ned is dead. Long dead. The only other possible name is (not THE) Richie Gray. Gray spent a number of years working for the SRU before inventing the “Collision King” to help players perfect their positioning at the breakdown. He’s now working as a “breakdown consultant” for the Springboks and delivering impressive results. The fact he does not appear to have been given an opportunity to deliver those results closer to home is worrying.

Scotland’s low status in World rugby is concerning. We have no elite referees and have had to bring an English one to Murrayfield in the hope of getting a representative on the international referee’s Panel. Aside from John Jeffries and Dr James Robson it hard to see any Scot of influence working at the higher levels of the game. This puts Scotland in a precarious situation and we saw that during last year’s the Heineken Cup saga. The SRU’s position during the negotiations was akin to a sloth bringing a butter knife to a nuclear war. There is a risk of Scottish rugby becoming isolated and viewed as irrelevant as other countries start to compete for places at the top table.

Women’s Rugby

The current state of women’s rugby in Scotland is a national disgrace. The SRU say the issues faced are such that it needs “to rebuild”. The lack of women’s sections at many clubs is shocking and can be linked directly to a lack of any real pathway for girls who want to play the game.

The SRU’s proposals for developing and rebuilding the women’s game are fairly robust with a target for two thirds of the top 40 clubs to have a women’s section within three years. However aside from a general commitment to grow the girls’ game within schools there are no plans to encourage clubs to do the same. Whilst it is early days there is also no commitment to develop any league or cup structures, at junior or senior level, beyond those that already exist.

The treatment of women in wider rugby world is shocking when compared with other sports. There is a gender pre-fix attached to everything associated with the women’s game but none for the men. Even FIFA, headed by the former president of “World Society of Friends of Suspenders”, refers to “men’s world rankings” and “women’s world rankings.” In athletics we have the men’s and women’s 100 meters and yet in rugby there is the World Cup and the Women’s World Cup. The gender pre-fix somehow cheapens the latter making it seem inferior despite the high quality of rugby played during the tournament by players who had to take unpaid leave from their main jobs.  

Clubs would be unable to function if it were not for the thousands of women who play a huge role in the day to day operations or the support they give to their children and partners. And yet once a year most, if not all clubs, hold a Men’s Dinner at the end of the season excluding the vast majority of people who have made that season possible.

It’s hard to understand why this tradition persists in these more enlightened times. Such segregation has never served any practical purpose and with attendances at many of these occasions dwindling clubs are shooting themselves in the foot by not opening them up to women. If clubs are concerned that women might not appreciate the bawdy humour or behaviour at such occasions then perhaps questions need to be asked as to whether such humour or behaviour is appropriate in the first place. Or perhaps women should be given the opportunity to decide for themselves whether the jokes are funny and the behaviour appropriate.

Clubs must consider their end of season social arrangements in the coming year. If we are to grow rugby in this country and encourage children of both genders to become involved in the game then any function or arrangements which exclude half of the population have to be eradicated from clubhouses.

International

Scotland currently sit 8th in the men’s IRB Rankings. It’s a fairly comfortable position with Scotland unlikely to drop below 9th during the Autumn Internationals even if they end in a whitewash. However this is not entirely all Scotland’s doing.

Scotland benefit from participating in the 6 Nations and being able to potentially trade rankings points with teams above them. Countries such as Samoa, Tonga, USA, Canada, Georgia and Japan are not so lucky and have to fight for a chance to play the top nations. Samoa, Tonga and Japan have got to where they are by sheer hard work. The All Blacks gave Japan a game recently but mainly because Japan gave them a bucket load of cash. The fact the All Blacks don’t play any of the Pacific Nations is shameful. The USA has started to benefit from visits from top nations keen to crack an emerging market in world rugby and the All Blacks head there later this year, again with the promise of a huge payday. Poor Georgia can’t get a game.

Georgia are currently 15th in the IRB Rankings on 70.46 points. Italy are 14th on 70.92 points. The argument for relegation from the 6 Nations is over. The current 6 Nations Committee needs to start looking at a system of relegation and promotion. It is possible to base that on rankings (i.e. top 6 European nations) or annual relegation/promotion to the 6 Nations B. Unfortunately it comes down to money and neither the 6 Nations Committee nor broadcasters will want to see games like the Calcutta Cup disappear from the calendar. Although if Scotland continue to fail to compete, viewers will start to switch off and the financial considerations will no longer be of relevance.

The other option is a European Competition every four years in between World Cups. However the only window for this would be the autumn and it’s unlikely the top European nations will want to give up their annual chance to play the top Southern Hemisphere teams.

As discussed earlier the Women’s International side is currently in a dreadful state compared to the rest of the world. Regularly well beaten during the 6 Nations the squad did not even qualify for this year’s World Cup. The SRU says “a tougher stance should be taken with those unwilling or unable to achieve what is needed for international play.” That’s a pretty harsh threat given the way the women’s game has been treated added to the fact that players give up their own time to turn out for their country.

Elsewhere Scotland’s 7s squad continues to splutter along sparking into life intermittently. The Commonwealth Games gave the game an excellent platform and it would be great to see the SRU build on this. The fact that players on pro-contracts are being drafted into the squad shows the SRU are starting to take 7s seriously and as it is currently the fastest growing most commercially attractive branch of the game they can’t afford not to.

Professional Rugby

At the end of last season I hinted on Twitter that I was ready to nail my colours to the mast and finally choose a professional team to support. This was a source of puzzlement to many outside of Scottish rugby but it’s something many other fans have had to wrestle with since rugby turned professional.

My heart has always been with The Borders but The Borders no longer exist. People living in the north of Scotland face the same problem although there has been a superb campaign to reinstate the Caledonia Reds.

If the game is going to grow in this country then Glasgow and Edinburgh need to do more to engage fans outside both cities. Edinburgh make token forays into the Borders during pre season but more competitive games need to be taken on the road so young fans can feel some sort of connection with both pro teams. That means both teams travelling North and South during the season.

Rugby has always languished behind football in terms of popularity but with the decline of three of the country’s larger clubs there is a gap in the market that Glasgow have started to take advantage of. However Edinburgh have failed to capitalise on this and key to this is both Alan Solomon’s transfer policy and the current stadium.

Glasgow have a great stadium in Scotstoun and regularly manage to attract decent crowds. The club also has a great core of Scottish home grown players (even snapping up players cast aside by Edinburgh). Foreign signings have, on the whole, added something extra to the squad and forced incumbent players to raise their game.

Conversely Edinburgh continue to play in the vacuum of Murrayfield. The games at Meggetland at the end of last season showed that a move to an alternative venue could have great benefits in creating a far superior atmosphere but a permanent move away from the national stadium doesn’t appear to be on the cards. The club’s policy of signing South African players not good enough to play Super Rugby is frustrating especially when comes alongside the loss of Scots with genuine ability. Glasgow picked up Lee Jones and Geoff Cross at the end of last season after they were cast aside by Edinburgh. Both went on to demonstrate they have abilities far above the players they were replaced with.

In terms of the club I’ve chosen? Well if it isn’t already obvious I have gone for Glasgow. Call me a glory hunter if you will but the composition of Gregor Townsend’s squad and they style of rugby is hard to resist. Of course my first team of choice will always be Berwick RFC (no glory hunting there).

Club rugby

Funding for the amateur game increased to £3 million pounds this season. That’s up from £1.9 million two years ago. The reorganisation of the lower leagues has also helped smaller clubs financially by cutting out long journeys and overnight stays.

However there remains a huge gulf between the amateur and professional game with very few players making the step between the two unless it has been through an Elite Player Development contract. This should be a cause for concern. It may be possible to spot a winger or full back with potential at a young age but players in some positions, especially the front row, generally mature later in their careers. Ryan Grant was ready to give up playing a few years ago. We’re all thankful he decided to give it one last go.  

The performance of Scottish teams in the British & Irish Cup exposed the weaknesses in terms of the depth and standards of the player pool in Scotland. The SRU put forward proposals to introduce a semi-professional league to try and bridge the gap but this was rejected by the clubs. There are still plans to introduce a semi professional Scottish Super League but its future hangs by a thread.

Scottish clubs have now withdrawn from the British & Irish Cup but if the SRU are to grow Scottish Rugby from grass roots that means making club rugby more attractive to both players and fans. The only way to deliver that is the top teams turning semi-professional to allow players to train more often and develop more quickly. This might seem unpalatable to purists within the game but the people who oppose the move to semi-professional rugby are the same who resisted professional rugby in this country for so long. Professional rugby in Scotland is still recovering from the unwillingness of some to embrace the change.

Club rugby cannot afford to make the same mistake.

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Born a Souter but brought up just south of the Border in Berwick where he played for Berwick RFC as a kid any any position where cover was needed.
Follow Cammy on twitter @CammyBlack

52 comments on “State Of Union

  1. FF on

    The SRU is an easy target to take aim at but compared to a few years ago the financial basis and future prospects of Scottish rugby are on another planet enitrely and for that at least they deserve credit. In professional sport, we just can’t get away from the fundamentals of participation numbers and money and at least the SRU have identified the problem.

    Relegation/promotion in the 6N is an absolutely bloody stupid idea. If Georgia are good enough, the 6N should expand to 7N. Relegation would threaten the professional viability of rugby in Italy or Scotland and do nothing for the sustainability of the promoted team if they face going immediately back down again. Why on earth we want to promote a zero-sum model of international recognition at the top tier in a sport that is supposedly trying to expand is beyond me. For professional rugby to survive and expand in regions where it is struggling (like Italy and Scotland) it needs a sustainable financial base, not the sword of Damocles forever hanging over them. This is a surefire way to kill of the sport in two established rugby nations.

    • Cameron Black on

      I think the SRU are taking the game in the right direction I just think some plans, particularly in the women’s game are a bit light on detail. It’s also worrying that clubs are resisting a move to semi-professionalism. The Scottish game’s resistance to professionalism had catastrophic results still being felt now. Who know if professionalism had been properly embraced we might still have 4 pro-teams.

      I agree the financial constraints will dictate the future of the 6 Nations but there needs to be some reform in the European/Northen Hemisphere to make the rankings system more fair for emerging nations. That could be 7 Nations, relegation/propotion or a European/Northern Hemisphere tournament. The point is we can’t continue to put our heads in the sand about this (especially with Italy plummeting in the rankings) otherwise the decision will be taken out of our hands as with the Heineken Cup. Don’t forget this risk is not limited to Scotland and Italy. France are also in the firing line.

    • FF on

      Yes, the difference is with France there is so much money in the game that they could survive a year or two in the wilderness. The 6N remains the cash cow that funds NH rugby. If Scotland lost that income for even one season it would have catastrophic results and could conceivably end professional rugby below the national level.

      There is only one European team likely to be promoted to the 6N and that is Georgia. Before that is appropriate I think they should receive regular tests against tier 1 sides to support their development. To date, they have only one victory against a tier 1 side, a 2pt home victory against Samoa. Italy had victories against Wales, Ireland, France, Scotland as well as regularly bettering their tier 2 peers. We need to support the development of rugby around Europe but I think the rush to tear apart the 6N or consign Italy/Scotland to rugby’s historical dustbin is a little ill-considered. The other home unions probably agree, after all Georgia would not be competitive in the 6N and will not fill Twickenham. The more likely scenario if the 6N is disrupted is Scotland and Italy are cast adrift and SA are wooed in our place, not that we’re replaced by emerging nations.

      In regards to semi-pro rugby in Scotland, I had written a long comment but thought better of talking about what I knew too little about. My concern is that the way the semi-pro level has been described has sounded like neither one thing nor another. An odd mix of semi-pro players able to train longer hours without half their unpaid team mates. I’ve read suggestions that the districts could be resurrected as a semi-pro level to concentrate talent more effectively and compete against each other and in the B&I Cup. Seems more logical to me although I’m sure you couldn’t find a club in the land to support it. The SRU now has the money and they will never find a compromise to please all the clubs. They need to lead and force the clubs to follow, with the BT cash as sweetener. As they should also do with the private schools, if they don’t want to fall in line now they will eventually.

  2. Mh439 on

    Very interesting and well written article. Clearly not meant to be entirely comprehensive (hence not including the state of schools’ rugby)but good to take stock.

    Would be interested to hear views on university rugby. This is an area where – as one could argue with men’s/women’s/age grade – we have been way behind others, particularly in the UK. Pitting our best uni side (prob Edinburgh Uni at this point)against those of top tier nations (Loughborough, Cardiff, Stellenbosch, Otago)I think we could quite easily predict a pretty one-sided outcome.

    One may argue we do not have the resources to invest heavily in this area, and I do have some sympathy with this. However, when we continue to struggle to bridge the gap between school and men’s rugby, is university rugby not a pretty decent solution? With a bit of time and effort could these not effectively become the academies that we have been looking to build for such a long time?
    The universities certainly have the financial strength(for the most part), quality of facilities and tend to also run woman’s teams.

    Professionalism is improving at these institutions – Edinburgh and St Andrews currently employ full time, paid directors of rugby – yet these appointments are primarily student/university led, and NOT driven by the SRU.

    What are peoples’ thoughts? Does it simply come down to funding?Could we replicate a model whereby age group selectors could happily pick from university sides without worrying about the intensity/skills at this level (on an aside I would suggest the skill set at university sides is often on par with, if not better than the ‘athletes’ often found in our Scotland age group sides)? Is it too late a stage of development to invest heavily (argument re Ryan Grant would suggest not…)?

    I think this is an important yet oft overlooked debate

    • Cameron Black on

      My aim was only to gloss over some of the SRU’s headline plans. You could write a book analysing the proposals for reform in more details.

      I’d agree with more needing to be done at University level. I think there’s a danger that EDP is seen as the only route to professional rugby and that discounts a lot of players who may mature later. I gave up rugby at 16 because I was 5ft 8 and skinny and didn’t have the skills to be a back. Two years later I was 6ft 1 and a lot bigger. Even if I’d stuck it out I would still have been languishing in a third team but it just shows that there is the potential for youngesters to be overlooked because they’ve not come through the age grades or an EDP. I think University and Semi-pro rugby would help.

  3. Neil on

    So the SRU finally have some some money to spend. There is general agreement that we need to, first and foremost, develop at least one more pro team and probably two. Every fan in the land is saying that. We also need to do more in terms of coaching, particualrly at youth level.
    What is the SRU doing about it- precicesly SFA. They have taken the cash but are sitting on it and doing nothing. Perhaps they think we are all stupid and will forget about it while the use the cash to fund foriegn trips/holidays and stay in 5 star hotels. Am I right or am I right?
    I wrote to them a number of months ago requesting answers to various questions but I have not recieved a reply. Says it all in my opinion.

    • Cameron Black on

      Firstly I don’t think the whole country is in agreement about a third pro team. Sure we’d all like to see more Scottish pro teams but it doesn’t currently make financial sense. It would take more than £20m to set one up and the costs of running a club are huge.

      The SRU said from the outset that the £20m would clear its debt and then money left over would be invested in grass routes rugby. The money is being spent but £20m doesn’t go that far these days. There’s details on the SRU website attached to details of the AGM. The question is whether it will deliver long term.

    • Angus on

      Before looking to create a 3rd Pro team I think 2 predominantly Scottish current Pro teams would be the priority. If there aren’t Scottish player of sufficient standard to man those then where are the players for a 3rd team to come from?

      While Edinburgh requires foreign players to strengthen their ranks I don’t believe an argument for a 3rd side holds water

      OK so the argument can be these imports are not made up of players who couldn’t make it in Super rugby but if Edinburgh are allowed to recruit them over Scottish then someone is making the decision (rightly or wrongly) that they are of a better standard than local boys

    • Neil on

      Reagrding a third team, I recon this could be done on about 1 Million GBP per annum but this could be achieved through industry sponsorship in economic heartlands such as Aberdeen and Perth. There is also alot of support for a third team in the Scottish borders. Regarding the players, we produce alot of decent players in amature clubs such as watsonians, Heriots FP, Kelso, Melsore etc- sure they are not exactly new zealand All Blacks but if they played at the highest level on a weekly basis and turned their full attentions to pro Rugby then they could be. We could also bring in some players from other parts of the globe and develop youth teams in these clubs. Unfortunately, we are dealing with a bunch of idiots in the SRU who feel that we can compete with only 2 pro clubs when all other 6 nation teams have 4 or more. Dont even get me started on the comparisson with SA, NZ and OZ. It stands to reason (at least for anyone with more that 2 brain cells to rub together)- the more pro clubs you have, the greater the pull of talent. Is the SRU so stupid that they cant even comprehend such a basic concept? I wrote to them recently to ask them to respond to many points that i made in a letter including the possibility of setting up more pro teams. Guess what- they did not respond to me. Perhaps they felt too important to write to a fan or perhaps they had a insufficient grasp of the English language to do so- you decide! Remeber these were they stupid idiots that hired SJ.

    • Ruairidh Campbell on

      Neil, to be honest, firstly I would not be mocking the SRU and their grasp of the English language when you look at the comment that you wrote which has a large number of spelling/grammatical errors…

      Secondly, you seem to forget just how much money is needed for a successful professional rugby club to operate. The fact that you think that £1 million will be enough to hire players, coaches, assistants and administrative staff as well as renting the stadium, paying for modifications to convert it, taxes, building community support as well as a number of other costs I have not mentioned is frankly ludicrous! Even if you earn some more money from tournament prizes and sponsorship, unless you are attracting sponsors with a lot of money to throw around and constantly preforming well in the league/ERC competitions, then it simply will not work with the SRU paying just £1 million! If it could, then I would expect that the Border Reivers and potentially even the Caledonia Reds would never have been axed if it only cost such a relatively small amount of money!

    • Neil on

      Ruairidy- yes there are spelling/grammr errors in my text but I had to compile this at speed during a lunch break and at least I have the will to write about issues in Scottish rugby that I view as important, unlike the SRU- they do approximately SFA. They couldnt even be bothered to reply to an email that I sent them or to acknowledge receipt of it.
      Regarding the establishment of a third team, I use the figure of 1 Million GBP as a start up/first year figure and not to create a club the size of Bath overnight which would be a pipe dream. Nevertheless, there are lots of potential sponsors in Aberdeen and Perth. Please also remember the bums on seat- even 1000 fans paying 20GBP per ticket would equal 20,000 per game. Multiply that by 40 and you get 800,000 GBP per annum. You could also generate extra income through sale of club merchandise, TV rights etc so I dont think it is a pie in the sky dream to believe that we could have 4 or 5 teams in Scotland. After all, if Ireland and Wales can do it, why not Scotland. I believe there is a particular problem with the Scots- they just dont aim high enough. And before you mention it I am indeeed a proud scot who happens to aim high.

      • Cameron Black on

        I wouldn’t like to hold Welsh Club rugby up as any sort of model of how anyone should do things.
        I don’t know if it’s still on Iplayer but the BBC Wales documentary on the Dragons last year was superb. Worth tracking down if you can find it as it sets out the trials and tribulations a comparable Scottish pro side would face if set up. I’m afraid your £1million calculation is a little naive as it doesn’t account for staffing costs and facilities neither of which exist in any decent capacity outside either Glasgow or Edinburgh (unless you look at ground sharing with a football team).
        I’m also interested to know where you got your information about SRU expenditure from. There was no suggestion at the AGM or in any records I’ve seen that anyone is flying round the world and staying in five star hotels. I would be incredibly wary of stating such things as fact without any evidence.

    • Neil on

      Cameron,

      The 1 Million pound figure is based on the following

      20 players on average income of 20,000 = 400,000
      Additional staffing costs = 100,000
      rental of stadium for year facilities etc = 200,000
      Additional costs including travel = 300,000

      I think it could be done. Obviously it is a tight budget but sponsorship, bums on seats, TV rights, sale or merchandise etc would cover the expenses. As I eluded ito in an earlier message the 1 million pound figure would only be applicable for year 1.

      Regarding the SRU, its very easy to hide things in official published accounts- thats all I’m goingf to say on that matter. However, I would prefer to look at exactly what they have done and are doing which is SFA. They dont have any plan on how to spend the BT money (perhaps they plan to spend it on themselves, holidays etc), no plans to develop and promote the game at grass routes, no plans to initiate the establishment of more pro teams, no plans to develop talent full stop. And they seem to spend money on useless items such as SJ- a useless coach for both Scotland and Wales yet he still seems to find a highly paid job at the SRU. I’ve raised all of these points in a letter to the SRU but, surprise, surprise, they did not respond. Basically, they are an expensive unaccountable organisation that sticks two figures up to the fans.

    • Ruairidh Campbell on

      Employing 20 players? At the very least you need a full bench. Also, there is no chance of you getting any decent players if you offer them £20,000 a year. Remember that even someone like Max Evans is on £100,000 a year in France. I know that more money is thrown around there, however, a player like Evans or Tom Heathcote is who you would target and trust me, they will not be accepting an offer of £20,000. And remember, you are not going to be employing many additional staff for £100,000 overall.

      And yes, Neil, we know you apparently wrote a letter to the SRU with a complaint (as you seem to mention in every comment you write), just because they did not respond to your letter does not mean that you need to keep slagging them off all the time…

    • Neil on

      So Max Evans is worth 100 grand a year- a mediocre average player- I’ve seen better in a public park. That aside, my figure of 20,000 was an average- there would be some players worth much more, others on about 12K, others that are part time. Initially I think it would also be possible to get some amatures to compliment a core playing staff of about 20. Regarding other staff, these would mostly be hired on a part time/seasonal basis- e.gg cleaners, groundsmen, physios etc. Honestly, it is possible to run things on a shoestring. In any case, I mention the figure of 1 million as a start up fee for the first year. As the club expands, the costs would increase but so too would the income. Something that we forget about is the income generated, not just the costs. By my estimation with bums on seats, sponsorship, TV rights, merchandise sales etc it shoudl be possible to cover costs at the very least. One thing that is rarely spoken about is- if Ireland and Wales can do it then why not Scotland?

      Regarding the point made about me slagging of the SRU, I’ll try not to bring this up again as I understand that I could come over as a broken record but I feel so passionately about the state of our game and just wish that passion was shared by individiuals at the top end of our sport.

  4. Raycb on

    To say that “the people who oppose the move to semi-professional rugby are the same who resisted professional rugby in this country for so long” is complete generalisation and misrepresntation of many of the arguments against the Semi-pro model put forward by the SRU.

    The SRU proposal, which has been widely rejected even by clubs currently in the premiership, was essentially to pay four players at Premiership clubs. Those who understand what is required for a club to become semi-pro know that simply paying a handful of players will make no difference whatsoever to the standard of club rugby – professionalism is about the training environment, the coaching, the specialist support and working with a large group of other professional players. This is why it has been rejected and I suggest you do your research in future rather than making your own interpretation and then supposing that this to what those involved in considering the proposal all think.

    The alternative argument which many if not the majority of Scottish rugby players and clubs would like to see is a return of representative District rugby at senior level (probably played at the end of the season) as a means of providing a high quality semi-pro competition that bridges the gap to the pro game.

  5. James Maclean on

    I’m very torn on a lot of these points.

    We constantly go on about the need for the SRU to boost playing numbers and increase the popularity of the game, yet we miss the point that this is not really their role. The SRU (and all other unions) exist to represent their member clubs and administer the game. They do both of those things as well as can be expected (for the most part). However it’s incredibly difficult to spread rugby from the top down.

    Most of the countries in the world that are seeing significant growth (Argentina, USA etc) are doing it from the bottom up. The game is spreading organically based on the passion of individuals and clubs. This was exactly how the game spread in the first place – the work of passionate men wanting to start/expand their teams. I can’t think of any good example of a country seeing lasting growth in playing numbers based on union run campaigns or money being thrown at it. People don’t play and watch this game because there’s money in it, they do it because it’s fun and someone ropes them into coming down to a training session/watching a game.

    The SRU can’t force state schools to play the game, all they can do is train up passionate parents in coaching qualifications and let them petition the school for a team.

    This also applies to women’s rugby. I’m in total support of it, but I don’t see how it’s the responsibility of the union to grow it. If there are only a handful of women playing then it is ultimately down to them to try and get more women involved. Of course there are a fair few already doing that, but not in the numbers and with the same enthusiasm I see in other countries. The SRU starting a semi pro women’s league won’t do much for the sport. It seems that a lot of us would rather sit back and demand the union and pro team ‘do more’ than actually get out there and make it happen ourselves. Argentina don’t even have any pro teams and they’ve beaten us a lot in recent years. We only just scraped past what was their 3rd rate team. Why are the accelerating and we’re stagnating. We have far more money, pro teams and history than they do, yet they almost beak the same Boks we get thumped by. Why? Because they have more players than we do.

    Until we as a rugby nation actually make a collective effort to get more people to games and training then the game will never see real lasting increases.

    • Neil on

      The point is that there are paid professions in the SRU with the remit to promote rugby as a game, particularly at grass routes. At present they seem to be sitting on their fat backsides doing precisely SFA. I wrote to them recently and they could not even be bothered to respond to me. I agree that the national ethos needs to change but if Ireland and Wales can do it then why not Scotland. I am old enogh to remember that Ireland were a laughing stock (in rugby temrs) in the late 80s up unitl arround 1997 but now it is the Scottish team that is the laughing stock. We basically need more pro teams and we need to do more at grass routes. Much of this work couold be done within clubs and much sponsorship could come from industry but the SRU need to be resonsible for coordinating things. At present they do next to nothing apart from staying in 5 star hotels, taking expensive flights to far off places etc. The thing that upsets me the most is that the SRU do not seem to be accountable to anyone and could not care less about the fans. If they really want to fix the game, why dont they start to engage with the fans for a change.

  6. Matto on

    One million dollars!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKKHSAE1gIs
    Sorry Neil, that’s just a wee bit of banter. I appreciate your passion and frustration with the state of play, as most on here will. However, we have to be realistic, and these numbers are pie picked out of the sky. There is not a team in the Pro12, Premiership or Top 14 operating on a budget that small. 40 players (how can you run a team with 20? That’s not even a match day 23) on £20,000 a year is going to cost you £800,000, but that doesn’t even start to cover any of the indirect costs that an employer has per staff (pension, insurance etc). On top of that what sort of a team are you going to put together on £20,000 salaries? A team of whipping boys, just breaking through from amateur rugby who will be looking to move on, or demanding higher salaries within a year. Not very good for building a club, and unlikely to pose the teams at the bottom of the Pro12 many questions on the pitch. Yes, a 3rd pro team is highly desirable, but it needs to be resourced at a level at least equivalent to the least resourced teams against which it will compete. Something strung together on the thread of a shoestring will be a laughing stock and doomed to failure. It would also count against the notion of a 3rd Pro team and damage the likelihood of it arising in a well constructed manner in the future.

    • Neil on

      Sure we need a third pro tem and probably another two beyomd that. I appreciate that these need to be properly funded but we could start by using semi pro players and building things up. It would be pie in the sky to expect to be the size of Bath Rugby Club overninght. My point is that 20K is not a large salary for pro players but just look at the number of young players turning out for Gala, Kelso, Melrose etc for no money at all. Some of these guys are really good and could certainly play at pro level. If you offered them a salary of 20K they would certainly join your team. You couold also develop a stronmg youth set up and a route to play pro rugby- something that Ireland and Wales have but Scotland do not.

      I bang on about it alot but noboday has ever answered my question- if Wales and Ireland can do it, why not Scotland?

      • Cameron Black on

        Wales can barely do it. The Welsh regions have been struggling financially for years and rely on a lot of help form the WRU. Most of the Welsh regions get around 6k attendances at most matches which is comparable to Glasgow.
        In Ireland things are different again. With the exception of Connacht the Irish regions regulalry get 10k-16k attending games regularly.
        Last season Edinburgh managed average attendances of 3k-4k and Glasgow 5k-8k. The average for the whole competition last season was 8,205.
        The game needs to grow in this country before we can sustain another pro team. The plan you are suggesting is similar to the SRU’s plan for a semi-pro league to act as a bridge between the amateur and pro game. Putting these players up against the likes of Munster isn’t going to do them any favours but getting them to a point where they can compete in the British & Irish Cup against English Championship sides is probably more achieveable.

    • Neil on

      This begs the question- why are attendances so poor compared with ireland and Wales? The answer is that our teams are not good enough and our national team is a joke (dont even get me started on the comic singers in the SRU). Fans will return but who really wants to watch SA 65 Scotland 8? We need to be more competitive and create more pro teams. There is just so much passion for the game in the borders that I just cant believe they don’t have a pro teams. They could easily turn out more than 5000 fans per game. There are very good players in the borders and, with a bit of practice and the correct coaching, could easily play at a higher level. Give most of these guys a salary of 25K a year and they will turn out for you. And how about Aberdeen and Perth- strong economic heartlands. There is plenty of passion for a pro team in these places, not to mention lots of money, sponsorship oportunities etc. In my view we could create at least another 3 pro teams. There will be more opprtunities for sponsorship in Aberdeen + Perth than anywhere in Wales and loads of bums on seats in the borders. So should we really be thinking in terms of 5 pro teams or more? Its the only way that our national team will improve and get away from the joke that we currrently are.

    • FF on

      Neil – If you have teams paid peanuts made up of Scottish premier players they will get slaughtered, even by the also rans like Zebre. As you have yourself just said, fans won’t turn up for teams that aren’t good enough. You can’t create a poundstretcher pro-team and expect them to be competitive.

    • Neil on

      I take the point that running a team that looses consistently would not make much sense but the point I wish to make is that you can run a team on a budget and still bring in quality players capable to competing at the highest levels. I just wonder what would happen if we selected the very best players from Melrose, Selkirk, Kelso and Hawick, offered them 20-30K per year and then spent 6 months training them full time with a proper coach. I bet that team would be more than a match for any pro team. Sure, it would be great to have a multi million pound investment but that may not be possible (at least initially). The borders has always been the main centre of rugby excellence in Scotland and I feel it is a travesty of justice that they dont have a pro teeam. I think the SRU should make it a priority to set up a team there, and then consider Aberdeen and Perth. I would like to hear the thoughts of other fans on this.

    • Wingbo on

      Ha! Neil, are you that guy who approached me at Broughton Street after the Calcutta cup, punching the wall while telling me you hated the SRU. You even mentioned you had spent the night in the boozer with a former international captain (which was a lie as I had). That individual that I met incidentally had equally crazy ideas (like not taking up the full compliment of a bench), not realising that capped players earn close to 6 figures or more and really had a grudge about Executives from an International sports body not returning email queries.

      If it was you,and I have to say, nice kilt on that night, then you should probably stop posting as you couldn’t name 3 members of the team you had just supposedly watched.

    • Neil on

      Wingbo,

      No I wasnt that guy and I dont even live in the UK any more.However, I do have very strong view on the SRU, the lack of work/vision they have for our game and the fact that we need more pro teams.
      You can laugh all you like but I dont care. Just remember, people used to laugh at Charles Darwin, Issak Newton and Albert Einstein- the boot is very much on the other foot now. The problem is that many scots such as yourself lack any sort of vision and aim low. If you aim low and accept mediocrity than thats all you will be- a mediocre average extra also ran just like the SRU and our national team.

    • Neil on

      Not sure if there is any more but there should be. I would just love to see our 2 pro teams take on the borders. That would give us some indication of where a borders team would be in the pro set up and what work has to be done.

    • Angus on

      It would give no indication of where the Borders are at with a view to a pro team. All it would do we demonstrate the gulf between a full time professional club and amateurs

    • Neil on

      Angus,

      I’m not convinced the gulf is quite as big as you claim. There are young fit strong lads turning out for border teams every weekend and many practise so hard they might as well be professional. The only way we would ever know for sure would be to hold a match but my own feeling is that it wouold be closer than you think.

    • Ruairidh Campbell on

      Neil, the gap between the best in the Premiership and the best in the Professional game is huge. The players that are good enough will go to either Edinburgh or Glasgow on EDP contracts whilst occasionally returning to play for their original club when not needed for the Pro12. However, if you think that the gap is not that small, the closest we have had to having a professional team play a club team was at the Melrose 7s. Glasgow found it quite easy getting past some of the best amateur clubs in Scotland. Sure, if they all came together into a district side it might have been a bit closer, however, still not close enough to get close enough to Glasgow or even Edinburgh/

  7. suffolkscot on

    having watched Saracens play London Scottish all be it a friendly it was evident the huge gulf in talent between the two. I think if London Scottish was to play the likes of our premiership if our lot played in the British isles cup you would see a huge gap again, not ideal but that’s where we are whether we like it or not.
    its going to take time to get up to Saracens level bt we have made a start … the only way its going to come any sooner s if we had some money men with a passion for rugby that would set up a franchise look beyond the initial loses on and off the field.

    also rugby needs a higher profile in Scotland to take the lime light away from football. get the premiership on a highlights package on BBC or STV…or bbc alba showing live games, we don’t need to demand money for it as long as we can get the air time.
    Get papers to run more stories and reports on the premiership.

  8. Neil on

    I completely agree that, in an ideal owrld we couold do with lots of money to plough into our teams + to set up new terams etc. But my point is that there is a wealth of talent in the borders. You cant compare it to London Scottish- a pub team at the best of times. Regarding the 7’s tournament in Melrose, this is a completely different game and you cannot compare the two. Another thing to rememeber is that we could take the very best players in the borders and pay them a small living wage to play. Sure some would leave but money would be generated in transfer fees to buy new players etc. I really think it could be done.

    • Ruairidh Campbell on

      Yes I know it is hard to compare 7s to 15s, however, that is just about the best example you can get. What BBC Scotland need to do is to follow BBC Wales’ lead and introduce a highlights program on a Sunday night showing highlights of all the games. I do remember a few years ago STV doing a similar sort of thing which also included highlights of Premiership and schools rugby. As the BBC already have the Pro12 rights, they should look at getting the rights to show Premiership and school rugby, even if it is only a roundup of all the results with a few clips – still better than nothing. Also, I do doubt that players would accept just a “small living wage” if they were to be offered professional contracts. They already have jobs which they would have to give up and the chances are that you would be offering them less than what they already earn.

    • suffolkscot on

      I don’t think Lon Scots would appreciate being called a pub team..considering they weren’t far off the play off last season to get into the Aviva Premiership.
      As far as I know Lon Scots went bust and they have built there team up from the bottom wrung of the English leagues to get into the championship. If there is a team blueprint we should be following it’s their one for building the team from scratch.

    • Neil on

      So Lon Scottish are probably OK but cetainly not a match for the NZ All Blacks. I just feel the passion for the game in Scotland is greatest in the Scottish borders and I think its just crazry that they dont have a team (and thats coming from a Fifer living in Saudi Arabia). Stopping the Borders having a pro-team is the equivalent of outlawing the game of rugby in south Africa and New Zealand. Copme on- you know I’m speaking sense.

    • Angus on

      Neil the pertinent point is the Borders HAD a pro team but it wasn’t supported enough to make it sustainable.

      Still hoping someone can tell me if there is a Senior District Championship each year and if so who plays in it eg Premiership players :)

    • Neil on

      They did have a team but it was not marketed/promoted in the way it should have been. In my view it was poorly managed and could have done with a bit more support from the SRU. In any case, I dont think it is a good argument to give up on this as many businesses fail in the first year, regroup, learn from their mistakes and are then successful.

    • Ruairidh Campbell on

      Angus, there is currently no senior district championship, just the ones at U16 and U18 levels. However, in the past few years a South team was brought together with Borders club teams to take on the Barbarians in a charity match and this year, a Caledonia side has been playing a few exhibition sides as well. If the district sides could be picked to play in the B&I Cup then that would certainly be worth doing.

    • Angus on

      Thanks Ruairidh. So now my question is why not? Why is it not running as an end of season Rep comp to showcase the non professional club players. What was the reason for doing away with it and for not starting it back up again?

    • Neil on

      Angus- the reason why we no longer have a regional championship is that the SRU are a bunch of short sighted prats. You know what they say in the bible- forgive them for they do not know what they are doing. Unfortunately, I just cant forgive them

    • Angus on

      Thanks Neill I appreciate your emotion on the subject ;) but I am seriously curious about the real reasons behind this

    • Neil on

      Angus- honestly its nothing synical. I’m just a normal fan of our national team who feels very passionately about the poor state of our game and I’ve been almost reduced to tears when I think of how good it was up until arround 2001. In the mid 90s’ we were in the top 4 rugby nations. Sure we tended to lag behind NZ, OZ and SA but we always gave them a run for their money. We had players like John Jeffries, Gavin Hastings and Finlay Calder who could have played in any tems and made an inpact. I just dont ses anything to match theor birlliance and the intensity at which they played. The irony is that they were all amature players. We now have guys who are paid professionals and their useless. I’m in my 40s and overweight but sometimes I think that even I could turn out for Scotland. I know that there are more important things in life but I always used to enjoy wathing our national team. Even when they lost you could tell that they had at least tried their best and given 100%. I look at what has happened over the last 15 years and it just depresses me. What depresses me even more, however, is that very few poeple seem to care about this and are just happy to accept mediocrity. By contribiting posts to this site I hope to inspire fans to take a stand, not to accept mediocrity, campaigne against the SRU for more than 2 pro temas and a better youth set up etc. I hope I have made my point.

    • Neil on

      Angus, Sorry about that but I always call things as I see them. The SRU isnt doing much, they are paid to priomote and manage our game but are doing very little. They need to know that their inaction is unaceptable.

  9. Neil on

    as I read the various comments- one thing goes through my mind- the English, welsh, Irish, New Zealanders etc must love us- our national team is a joke and they can always rely on a confidence boosting win when they play us. I just get frustrated that there is a lack of passion, vision and will to improve things. Just look at the level of resistance I got to my comments on the youth set up and the possibility of more pro teams? Everyone know these would be ingredients of success yet there is so much resistance even on this site. Is there a problem with the scottish mentality?- I do wonder as such pessimism does not exist in southern hemisphere or even in other parts of the UK.

  10. Neil on

    Can I suggest running another post entitle- “Has the SRU really done enough to improve our game in the last 10 years?”

  11. Stuart on

    I agree that over the past 10 years the SRU haasn’t done enough to improve our game but I would say over the past few years that has changed. Financially even before the BT deal the SRU were reducing the Murrayfield debt which was allowing for improved investment in grass roots. At the grass roots level there has been an increase in development officers and the recent restructuring and focus on School’s of Rugby are pleasing to see. Finally at professional level the quality of player has I think improved with a Scottish dominated Glasgow side amongst the best in the Pro 12 and while Edinburgh have struggled and have signed a lot of project players they have also snapped up academy projects and seem to be a lot stronger this year. While the SRU need to do more and the next step is another pro side I think we are on the right path at last.

    • Neil on

      Perhaps my posts and letters, together with the views of other fans have had some effect then but they need to be doing a lot more

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